The irreverent postmodern humor of Monty Python — a stew of bawdy iconoclasm, parodic schmaltz and geek-boy cheekery — achieved perhaps its finest expression in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This cult classic contains so many insider touchstones (the Knights Who Say Ni, Frenchmen who fart in your general direction, a homicidal rabbit) that, by now, it requires its own cultural thesaurus.
With a shrug of endearing opportunism, Python alum Eric Idle tapped the Holy Grail’s vast reservoir of goofs and gags for Spamalot, a shambolic Broadway production that gooses the conventions and traditions of musical theater every step of the way.
Very Little Theatre’s current production of Spamalot, ably directed by Chris Pinto, is as rambling and clunky as the material itself, part choreographed romp and part insider wink-wink. Floating on a wave of Pythonesque goodwill, the show takes a while to find its footing, but eventually all proves well in the kingdom: The Black Knight (Damon Noyes) is properly de-limbed, Brave Sir Robin (Scott Machado) shits his knickers and the Grail itself is found, in the unlikeliest of places.
The large, young cast is robustly dedicated to the shenanigans at hand, and several of the big musical numbers come off with a real bang, especially “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” Idle’s affectionate goosing of box-office acumen that says, “You are dead if you don’t have any Jews.” Shawn Bookey plays it deliciously straight as the insipidly earnest King Arthur, and Benjamin Sanders is appropriately preening as the vainglorious Sir Lancelot.
But the show, in many ways, belongs to Jennifer Parks as the Lady of the Lake, an epic diva whose glittering bitchiness is a perfect counterpoint to the scatological grit of Arthur’s clumsy questing. Parks, who was so divine in Actors Cabaret’s recent production of Falling for Eve, is rapidly distinguishing herself as one of the region’s finest comic actors; she’s got the timing of a veteran, and her voice is pure gold.
All told, Very Little Theatre’s mounting (pun intended) of Spamalot is a lot of fun, even if it’s not always sharp. Some opening-night hitches included delayed knocks when the monks smacked their heads with holy texts (giving the same effect as when the voice track is off on the tube), and, in general, an uneven sound quality that had the audience occasionally straining to hear what was going on.
But such issues proved minor annoyances, and likely they’ll be hammered smooth in subsequent productions. What’s more, the show itself allows for a kind of shaggy fatalism that flips the bird at over-achievement, because surging beneath all the silliness of Spamalot is a subtle criticism of any endeavor that takes itself too seriously, whether that be a search for a holy grail or the White House.
In this regard, then, VLT’s production is a welcome antidote to the colossal anxiety gripping us right now — an antidote hinted at cleverly during the show, which razzes both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In the hands of Monty Python, this year’s election is just another fart in your general direction.
Spamalot plays through June 5 at Very Little Theatre; info and tickets at thevlt.com or 541-344-7751.